On November 4, 2021, I hosted a book launch party for Strong Words and Simple Truths in Phoenix, Arizona. The venue was a fun, independent coffee shop called The Buzzed Goat and Ernie the hedgehog fit right in.
Our spirited gathering included over 30 friends, coworkers, toastmasters and veterans. The energy in the room was electric and I was thrilled to be able to speak in front of a live audience.
Below is a video of my short presentation and tribute to military veterans.
For more information on my book Strong Words and Simple Truths click here.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the headline and photo on the front page of my local newspaper the Ahwatukee Foothills News yesterday. There I was, standing in front of The Buzzed Goat Cafe wearing my Post 64 American Legion hat. The picture was taken after a speech I gave at my book launch party. One of the main focuses of my short talk was to share my experience in the US military and pay tribute to the veterans and honor their service and sacrifice.
I read aloud the excerpt below from my book Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.
Here is the introduction summary of Chapter 6: Veterans and Remembrance.
“Heroes are people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others.”
The first veterans I admired were my father, uncles, and cousins that served in the U.S. Military. Most of them, my dad included, were deployed across the globe to fight for freedoms during World War II. Their strength and resolve inspired me to become a leader and a servant to others. They were my Strong Man role models.
The idea of selfless service was instilled in me at an early age as I watched my parents and my dear cousins Joey, Patty, and Richie, volunteer for countless events at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Although my small hometown was only a few square miles, it was home to not one but two veteran organizations—The American Legion and the VFW. Every year when I was growing up, our town would have a Memorial Day parade that concluded at one of these two posts. In my family, Memorial Day was a special day marked by a solemn remembrance ceremony in the local cemetery.
My time on active duty in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s was relatively short and painless, but it left a lasting imprint on my perspective, leadership style, and values.
After college, I learned of the “Duty, Honor, Country” mantra of the U.S. Military Academy. I never forgot the crucial importance of remembrance and respect for those who have sacrificed in service to their nation.
The veterans I have encountered have a strong sense of integrity and commitment to their families, friends, and community. They are a tough and resilient lot who are some of the most kind, generous, and boisterous people I know.
The Strong Man is my tribute to all people who have served their countries and communities. Please join me as I share some of my thoughts on this important topic.
There are over one hundred and seventy thousand commonly used words in the English language, but most people employ just a fraction of them in their daily lives. Many people yearn to find and articulate the truth. The courage to communicate has many meanings; each of us struggling to get our voices heard brings our own understanding and desires to the process. I bring my understanding of communication and wish to be heard to this book.
Growing up in a large family in the northeastern United States, I learned the value of direct and powerful communication. I still appreciate the emphatic and heartfelt style of my New Jersey upbringing and have spent my adult life honing my skills through key programs, paths, and career choices.
I believe that strong words have the power to catalyze change, that direct communication has value, and that words have energy.I believe that words are best when they are consumable, easily understood, and impactful.
I also believe that simplicity in communication is elegant. Simple is clear and honest and true. The most delicious recipes have five or fewer ingredients. My Mom’s delicious rice pudding comes to mind. But alas, communication is not always as simple as a recipe.
From this understanding came the title of my first WordPress blog, Strong Words and Simple Truths, which I began writing in 2013. The title encompasses everything I believe about communication, and I have not changed the focus or intent of the phrase in my nine years of blogging.
I always have an idea that I’d like to share, so I’ve continued thinking, speaking, and blogging about communication since 2013. I am rarely at a loss for words.
Some of the articles I published on my blog were adapted from speeches I gave at Toastmaster meetings. Other times, I would challenge myself to convert a blog article into a speech. I found the challenges of the back-and-forth creations fun and fascinating. This process taught me the important lesson that the spoken word is quite different from the written word, and through this hard work I learned to be more flexible and creative in my communication style.
This book invites you to accompany me on a journey of discovery through a curated selection of over eighty articles from my blog. When I decided to compile these articles into a book, I knew that the same title, Strong Words and Simple Truths, would perfectly express what I am trying to convey. Little did I know when I started writing my blog that the extreme events of 2020 and 2021 would make my pithy title and subtitle all the more relevant and important.
So here I am, sharing in the most powerfully vulnerable way I have ever attempted. Blogging and public speaking are one thing, but publishing a book has brought me to a whole new level of commitment to my beliefs and my message.
The format of this book was inspired by author and fellow veteran, Ed Latimore. His book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower: Insights from a Heavy Boxer, was an outstanding compilation of his tweets, which includes strong and powerful lessons of life.
In this book, I blend the creative power of agility, communication, history, and science to create a patchwork quilt of my ideas, stories, and dreams.
I am honored to share the stories of the people and personalities who shaped who I am today. While I may not have been completely fearless as a child, the role models I emulated were feisty, strong, and spirited. Many of the themes in this book were inspired by my mom, Virginia, my brother, Bill, and my sister, Barbara. During elementary and high school, I was encouraged and guided by many amazing and motivational teachers and coaches.Ihad role models from the entertainment world as well. I desired to be as daring as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and as strong as Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.
These role models were heroes to me, and they inspired me to branch out and achieve the substantial and audacious goals I set for myself. I hope they will inspire you to do the same.
As a young adult, I had two different career aspirations. In high school, I wanted to be a medical doctor. After college, I considered becoming a science teacher.The common thread through my life is the desire to help people, share knowledge, and train others to learn new skills.
In this book, I’ll also share lessons from mymilitary service, which taught me the importance of KISS- Keep It Simple Soldier (or Stupid as some would joke). As a US Army Signal Corps officer, I supported combat and support units on the battlefield with precise and effective communication infrastructure and procedures.When lives depend on clear, concise, and timely messages, you learn to value their quality greatly.
My wish is that you find this book entertaining and educational, and I hope that it motivates you in creative and unique ways. I also pray that these words, thoughts, and expressions pay adequate tribute to the brave and selfless heroes in our world.
I have grouped the blog articles into eight sections. Each article includes the original publication date and appears as it originally appeared on the blog (with some proofreading to correct minor issues). I stitched the articles together much as a quilter would piece together colorful fabrics to create an intricate and appealing pattern. To keep things fun, I chose a theme from the magical world of the circus.
The sections of this book represent the main interests, influences, values, priorities, and passions in my life, each linked to a symbolic element from the circus.To aid the reader in remembering the sections and their symbols, I created a brief tall tale to open the book.
Strong Man—Veterans, Remembrance and Traditions
Laughter—Connections and Gratitude
Animals—Science and Truth
When you read the Table of Contents, you can think of it as a menu for a smorgasbord dinner which allows you to select the topics that most appeal to you. It’s a collection of various perspectives, angles, and tastes.
Come on, let’s run away and join the circus for a few hours!
In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.
Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:
Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
Advocating patriotism and honor
In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong.
In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor. By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.
Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.
The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion. The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.
I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”:
“In her own good land here she’s been abused She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands Is scandalized throughout the land
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before And I believe she can take a whole lot more
So we raise her up every morning We take her down every night We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag ‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”
One of the things that surprised me most when I served in the US Army was the insane amount of time spent cleaning- whether it was cleaning our equipment, our weapons, our boots or the bathrooms, it seemed like we always polishing, maintaining and recovering things. At the time, I didn’t fully understand and appreciate why there would be so much focus on Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services otherwise known in the Army as PMCS. The sergeants and officers in my unit were obsessive about this and we had these checks on the training schedule more days than not. And so my platoon did Physical Training (PT), inspections and equipment maintenance nearly every day. Why did we do this? To be in the best, most high performing condition and ready for battle.
Now let’s think about how many cars you’ve owned in the last 25 years? How many oil changes, tire rotations and maintenance checks have they had? How many 15 point inspections were done? How much time and money have you spent to ensure that your vehicle was in good condition and ready for a road trip?
One of the things that puzzles me about American society today is how much time and energy people put into the care of their motor vehicles and how much less effort and focus is put into maintaining their bodies.
Speaking of bodies. So far on this planet, how many human bodies have you had?
Last I checked, we only get issued one body at birth.
The good news is, unlike a car or machine, our bodies are self-healing and adaptable, we just need to give them the proper care and attention.
I am excited to share with you a simple 3 point inspection plan to help get your body battle ready.
One of my favorite bands of the 1970’s is Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and this is how you can remember the three points:
First let’s talk about the importance of Connections. What I miss most about being in the military is the camaraderie, bonds and cohesion. I always felt like I was part of a supportive team. Someone always had my back. The value and benefit to having a strong circle of good friends and family should not be overlooked in today’s virtual world.
Positive support, help and encouragement from others is shown to increase our immune systems. People with a positive network of friends and family that they can personally connect with have longer life expectancies.
Organizations like the American Legion, VFW, Toastmasters International, Rotary Club, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) like the Military Veterans Network (MVN) at my company Charles Schwab help bring people together and promote common bonds.
The second point in the Inspection Plan is Care, specifically self-care. We have all heard about the importance of eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting enough physical exercise. I’d like to highlight and focus on two other factors that have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing- Sleep and Stress. The importance of a good night sleep cannot be overstated since stress and sleep are often inversely proportional.
Quality sleep plays a vital role in the body’s ability to heal and repair itself and is necessary for the brain to rebalance by clearing out harmful toxins.
Recover is the third point in the plan and involves rebalancing and restoring your body, brain and mind each and every day. I find this to be the most interesting area with the discovery and application of new science and technology. Advances in neuroscience have fueled the emergence of new Brain Performance centers across the country.
Last year, I took part in a six month program for military veterans at a Vitanya Wellness center in Tempe, AZ where I experienced the benefits of reducing my stress, increasing my sleep and restoring my neural balance through a combination of brain health supplements and brain wave entrainment devices. By consistently taking care of myself and leveraging these new techniques and protocols, I found that my resilience, mental sharpness and memory improved in ways I had not thought possible. For more information click here.
Technology aside, there are many things you can do each day to help yourself to recover and rebalance including yoga, meditation and other restorative activities.
One of the things that perplexes me most about my fellow humans is their ability to learn and gain so much knowledge about what is good for their health and well being and then how rarely, if ever, they apply it!
It is my hope is that you will remember the importance of a daily PMCS- just like I did while I was in the Army.
Take care of the one body you were issued at birth because there is no plan B- there no spare one sitting in your garage.
Do your Preventative Maintenance Checks and Service and the daily 3 Point Inspection to have a battle ready body for as you travel in your journey of life you will encounter twists and turns and the inevitable steep hill.
Know that positive connections, proper self-care and recovery can give you the strength and resilience to power through the tough days and overcome whatever obstacles cross your path.
Connect, Care and Recover with spirit and zeal.
Take care of your amazing organic being and let it take you on the ride of your life!
There’s good news for US military veterans who want to connect with their community and be part of a strong veteran’s service organization. The eligibility requirements to join The American Legion have been modified and more people are now able to join.
The recent change is thanks to the LEGION Act which was enacted in July 2019 and will open the door for approximately 6 million veterans.
The LEGION Act stands for Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service will enable more people to join the American Legion and gain access to its benefits and programs. Click here for more information on the LEGION Act.
Now that the legislation has been signed, The American Legion’s eligibility criteria changes from seven war eras to two: April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941 and continuing . No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed.
The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to community service and assistance.
With over 2 million members and more than 12,000 posts in communities throughout the United States, the Legion is the largest nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization.
Ahwatukee Post 64 is a very active in the local Phoenix, Arizona community and provides many volunteer services and support throughout the year, including:
Honor and Color Guard – over 50 events and ceremonies last year
I wrote the poem above after the contents of this blog were published in the Opinion section of my local newspaper, the Ahwatukee Foothill News and on the website Legiontown.org.
Here’s the original post.
Some would say that the fabric of American society is fraying due to decreased civic engagement and increased political polarization. Last week I witnessed the complete opposite.
It was the night before Flag Day and I saw the strengthening of social bonds in a local restaurant where thirteen veterans and their spouses came together to share fun, stories and some delicious Irish stew.
This positive and festive social gathering brought together US veterans from three generationsto share in the spirit of camaraderie and strengthening community involvement.
Members from the Charles Schwab Military Veterans Network and Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 met at the Irish Hare Pub and Restaurant in Phoenix for some fun, food and story telling.
Here our common values rallied about an important piece of cloth that symbolizes the unity and strength of our country- the flag that we have all pledged allegiance to. The red, white and blue fabric on our table reminded us that we are Americans first.
We came together and toasted to our freedom which none of us will ever take for granted.
It warmed my heart and gave me hope that people from different generations, professions, political leanings and walks of life can come together in a spirit of positive bonds of affection and shared experiences.
The Irish Hare is a great venue for social events, dinner and music and we all appreciated the support from the Proprietor Heidi Hamor who thanked us for our service and contributed to the raffle prizes with a snazzy, green shirt. Other fun raffle prizes from the American Legion Post 64 included a US Flag and fun, patriotic cowboy hats.
It was a simple yet spirited event that renewed my faith in the strength of local community bonds that are the underlying support for the fabric of our society. I was happily reminded that I live in the United States of America where our flag is appreciated and rallied around in times of peace and war and serves as a common symbol of our shared principles and values.
To preserve the memories and honor the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price while serving their country, Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 is dedicated to providing and supporting remembrance services and ceremonies.
American Legion Post 64 members. Photo by Steve Smull
Beginning in March and running through Memorial Day, Post 64 will have had three events dedicated to honoring fallen and past Veterans.
On March 15, 2019, the members of the post celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the American Legion. This special meeting was dedicated to the 1,194 crew members of the USS Indianapolis CA-35 which was torpedoed on July 30, 1945.
At the March meeting, post member John Boyer gave an educational and moving presentation about the disaster, the victims, and the 316 survivors. John is a survivor family member as his cousin, Lloyd Peter Barto, was one of the crew who was rescued after four days in the shark-infested waters of the Philippine Sea.
For more information on the USS Indianapolis Click here.
On May 15th, Post 64 honored and remembered 45 members who have passed in a special prayer service led by Post Chaplain Rebecca Schmidt.
John Boyer and Rebecca Schmidt. Photo by Steve Smull
The theme of Never Forget will culminate on Memorial Day, May 27, when Post 64 will join over 20 Color and Honor Guards from across Arizona to pass in review at the Parade of Colors. The Ahwatukee post join many others to place over 100 wreaths in a solemn and inspirational Memorial Day Service at The National Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek, AZ on 23029 North Cave Creek Roadbeginning at 8:00 am.
Post 64 Color Guard lined up for the Memorial Day ceremony
The Memorial Day Ceremonies are a very important and respected tradition for veterans and their families across the country and include the presentation of the flag, slow salutes and the playing of taps. Other services may include prayers, the reading of names, ringing of bells and the lighting of candles.
Click here for more the Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 website.
As part of the Toastmasters in the Community series in my Ahwatukee club blog, I published this article last week.
Sharing the emotion and meaning of a moment in unique and creative ways, Steve Smull has been behind the scenes with his camera and flash at countless Toastmasters, veteran and community events chronicling important occasions, messages and achievements.
At a Veterans Day parade in Denver, CO
He considers himself an Image Documentarian who enjoys recording milestones and experiences with an eye to aesthetics where angle, context, composition and lighting are all continually considered and calculated.
Speaking at a Career Fair for Veterans in Phoenix, AZ
Steve learned the art of the craft from his father who was a professional photographer specializing in black and white prints. Filming in Super 8 was also a skill he learned in his youth and drives his passion for videography today.
Presenting a wreath at a Memorial Day service in Denver, CO
Steve gets the shot that helps share and promote the perspective and meaning of the scene. By saving memories and images he helps memorialize and remember our past and the sacrifices many have made. By reporting and educating, he honors our history and traditions one frozen moment at a time.
The winners of a Poppy Queen contest
By documenting the impact, action and faces in the community, Steve aids his fellow volunteers in promoting and increasing awareness on their important causes.
The Ahwatukee American Legion Color Guard in Arizona
Whether it’s a speech contest, a fundraiser gala, a bike race or a solemn memorial service, Steve has a knack for artfully capturing the action, passion and beauty of the scene.